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It's a two-way street

If Santa Monica really wants to ease traffic congestion, it's going to have to work with L.A.

August 05, 2008

Some Santa Monica residents are banding together behind a local ballot measure to slow construction, and no wonder. Economic success has made the city a destination for professionals, shoppers and diners, and their commuting patterns have in turn made the once free-flowing streets into a traffic nightmare.

But really, Santa Monica -- join the club.

For close to a decade, traffic has choked adjacent Los Angeles neighborhoods such as Mar Vista and West L.A., in part because of Santa Monica development and traffic policies. Like many smaller cities, Santa Monica sought to attract high-end retail business in order to get a cut of the sales taxes, while leaving much of the housing burden to Los Angeles. Housing, of course, generates only property tax revenue, which lags because, under Proposition 13, it resets to market value only when homes change hands.

As a result, it has become increasingly the case that only the rich or the elderly can afford to live in the region's smaller, wealthier cities. The people who staff the offices and stores live in Los Angeles, where they add to the pressure for denser development. Los Angeles streets bear the burden of the daily commute in and out. Los Angeles taxpayers subsidize the quality of life of their neighbors on the other side of the city limit.

The phenomenon is widespread. In a 2006 report, The Times detailed how efforts to preserve the charm, livability and, ostensibly, environmental responsibility of Santa Barbara were creating freeway-snarling traffic, farmland-gobbling subdivisions and environmental havoc in adjacent Goleta and Santa Maria.

Residents of Santa Monica, like residents of Santa Barbara, have the right to enact laws to preserve the high quality of life in their city, but they can outsource their urban challenges for only so long. Eventually they will creep back across the municipal border.

That's the motivating force behind the Residents' Initiative to Fight Traffic, which will be on Santa Monica's November ballot. As The Times reported Monday, it would limit nonresidential construction for 15 years. That may help control some of Santa Monica's traffic, but it won't do much for the adjacent streets of L.A. The two cities must work together for a regional balance of housing and retail, with both participating in transportation solutions that ease the flow of traffic.

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